Fresh out of college and ready to decorate her first apartment on her entry-level earnings as a fashion writer, Lauren McGrath did what came naturally. She turned to her mother.
Always reliable for wise counsel, mom Suzanne Grua McGrath brought more to the creative table than a mother’s intuition. She’s an interior designer who, between design gigs, sandwiched in 10 years working alongside decorating maven Martha Stewart in TV development. Always up for a staging, Suzanne rolled up her sleeves and steamed ahead at the first whiff of a design collaboration with her daughter. And in the easy give-and-take that characterizes this mother-daughter relationship, she happily shared the driver’s seat with Lauren.
"We both knew that whenever I got my first apartment, we would decorate it together," explains Lauren. "We actually started collecting things for it while I was still in college."
After graduating from Bowdoin College with a degree in art history, Lauren moved back home to Rye, New York, for a year. When she landed a job with Teen Vogue, she found her own place in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone. "I found this tiny apartment and instantly fell in love with its amazing deck, which is almost bigger than the apartment itself," she laughs.
"I think Lauren envisioned lots of parties outdoors," injects Suzanne, who, ever practical, had a vision of her own--a creative design that’s recession-friendly.
Each furnishing had to meet at least one of three criteria to give it longevity beyond the first-nest phase of Lauren’s life. "First, it had to have some kind of family history," notes Suzanne. "Second, it had to be easily transformed either in function or fashion to suit the space. And finally, it had to be versatile enough to move from room to room so it could be used in other residences over Lauren’s lifetime." Lauren adds, "We’re not interested in chasing the latest trend. We’re all about investing wisely in classic pieces that I can, potentially, own forever."
Take the new small love seat in the living room, which can move with Lauren to other addresses to serve different functions. Two other new purchases, the curtains and bookshelves, were both affordable finds from IKEA. Lauren assembled the bookshelves herself. "She is incredibly capable and doesn’t need a lot," boasts her mom. "She has an amazing fashion sense, but she lives and travels light. My daughter packs a suitcase like no one I know."
On the bookshelves above the radiator in the breakfast area is the white ceramic pottery collected by both mother and daughter. "There may be a McCoy or a piece of ironstone in there, but mainly our collections include nothing of any real value," says Suzanne. "The value is in the overall look. For us, pieces don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. We are not purist collectors."
One family piece--an American dresser handed down from Lauren’s great-grandparents--is the apartment’s focal point. "They gave it to me when I married," Suzanne says, "and I kept it for Lauren all these years because it was such a great piece."
"The apartment is so small, we had to choose furnishings very carefully and make sure they were things I loved," explains Lauren. "Our whole thing is about choosing favorite pieces we know we can move with us from home to home."
The "our whole thing" is the philosophy behind their popular mother/daughter blog, goodbonesgreatpieces.com. "It’s all about design and fashion and the joy of living with both," notes Suzanne. Adds Lauren: "It’s cross-generational. My mom’s friends are interested in learning what I think is fashionable and cool, and my friends are interested in my mother’s expertise on what furniture will last and what is valuable."
Neither one had a doubt about the small Swedish occasional tables they spotted at a consignment store in Connecticut. Paired, the petite pieces are the perfect coffee table for the living room’s love seat. "I love their Swedish design, miniature scale, pretty gray paint, and intricate detailing," Lauren says. "When I move, they can work as side tables for a low bed."
Lauren, no doubt, was influenced by her mother. But sometimes Suzanne fears she may have succeeded too well. "I’m amazed at Lauren’s tenacity. When we’re blogging together, I’ll think it’s fine, but she’ll say, ‘No, that’s not good enough.’ And I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m the Martha person!’"
Design: Suzanne Grua McGrath, Suzanne McGrath Design, LLC, 611 Broadway, New York, NY 10012; 212/674-8841, goodbonesgreatpieces.com.
Photography: Max Kim-Bee